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Are liberals funnier than conservatives?
Shocking confession: I LOVE Stephen Colbert. I know, you’re not shocked. Everybody – or at least every liberal I know – loves him. A few more of my favorite news or news-adjacent personalities include: Anderson Cooper, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Rachel Maddow.
And what do all of these personalities have in common, besides being, in my opinion, brilliant, dedicated professionals? They’re hilarious.
Whether it’s Colbert’s nightly zingers or Rachel Maddow’s love of the word “bullpucky” – they just have this way to deliver the news in a manner that makes the daily dumpster fire that we’ve become accustomed to vastly more palatable.
And of course, when it comes to political comedy, it all goes back to the OG liberal comedian himself.
Barack Obama: “With that I just have two more words to say, Obama out.
Oh God I miss him.
Now try to think of some similar hilarity on the right, and you come up short. Sean Hannity may be many things, but a razor-sharp wit is not among them.
Sean Hannity: “Empty rhetoric, empty promises, empty shelves, and empty suit, that pretty much sums up the Joe Biden presidency.”
Of course, there’s Dennis Miller, but his comedy skews more towards vague generalizations than towards attention to the day-to-day issues that Colbert and his ilk specialize in.
Dennis Miller: “Liberalism is like a nude beach. It sounds good until you get there.”
I mean, sure. But I’m not rolling on the ground.
The thing is, when you listen to the actual content of these liberal news personalities’ remarks, they’re often just as harsh as their right-wing counterparts, but I can’t escape the fact that they’re simply delivered in a manner that’s objectively…funnier.
[CLIP FROM THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT]
Putin: “We will strive to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”
Colbert “Denazify? That’s hard to do when you’re acting like de nazis.”
That line would have gone down very differently if it was delivered by Tucker Carlson.
So, what’s going on here? Are liberals just funnier than conservatives? That can’t be true, can it?
Turns out, it can.
First of all, liberals are vastly more likely to be attracted to careers in the creative arts, including, yes, journalism and comedy, than their conservative counterparts.
In her 2021 book “A Conservative Walks into a Bar,” Alison Dagnes interviewed dozens of self-identified liberal comedians who were working at the time, and as many self-identified conservative comedians as she could find – and there weren’t many.
So, she theorizes that satirical comedy has always aimed to subvert the power structure and take down those “in charge,” and that conservatism by its very nature upholds those powerful institutions.
There’s also the theory that right-wing humor tends to err more on the side of exclusion rather than the more liberal trend towards inclusion – a “we’re in this together” mentality.
A 2008 Duke University study interviewed 300 people, half liberals and half conservatives, and they told jokes to these people, and what they found that, quote, “Not too surprisingly, the conservatives were more apt to enjoy jokes that reinforced traditional racial and gender stereotypes – including a zinger about a guy choosing a game of golf over his wife’s funeral.”
And an Ohio State University study found that, when shown clips of Colbert speaking, a surprising number of conservatives just fully didn’t understand that he was joking.
So what’s going on here?
Is it ideological differences, or is it a lack of representation of conservatives in careers that traditionally lend themselves more to humor, probably some combination of those… but allow me to suggest one more idea.
In college, I took a class called “Comedy and Comedic Theory,” and the question that the teacher posed on the first day was very simply, “What is funny?”
Funny it turns out is all about context. So, say a person falls down the stairs – that can be funny, but not if the person is hurt.
And the opinions being put forward by conservative journalists these days, from pro-Putin rants to calls for the very fall of democracy… they’re not just hurtful, they’re terrifying.
So you can’t really blame them for being fairly dismal to watch – what they’re saying, is just not funny at all.
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